AUSTRAC Reports on Aussie Casino Junket Operators

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Photo by Photo by Chris Liverani

A report by Australia’s financial crimes watchdog has revealed that casino junket tour operators are being targeted by organised criminal syndicates.

The Age reports that tax evasion, visa misuse, links to sanctioned entities and possible corruption are among the activities uncovered by the watchdog.

A new risk assessment by AUSTRAC identified a number of junket tour operators with links to criminal organisations including drug traffickers, and others with links to foreign political parties or governments, raising concerns about the threat of foreign interference.

Transactions indicated foreign spies or their proxies could be using money held in casino accounts to make political donations with a link to foreign interference activities.

Money launderers were also exploiting casinos’ reliance on junket operators to launder dirty funds through casino bank accounts and high-roller rooms.

Junkets bring wealthy Chinese high rollers to overseas casinos and extend them credit with which to gamble, circumventing Beijing’s tight capital controls.

They have become an important part of Crown Resorts and Star Entertainment’s businesses in recent years.

Junket operators have been a focus of this year’s explosive New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority inquiry into Crown.

It was revealed in 2019 that many of Crown’s junket partners had links to organised crime syndicates, triggering the ILGA inquiry, which is reassessing Crown’s suitability to hold a licence for its new Sydney casino.

ILGA ordered Crown to delay opening the Barangaroo casino until the inquiry delivers its recommendations, which are due February 1.

Junket operations have in effect been suspended since Australia shut its international borders in March to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The ILGA inquiry into Crown’s junket partnership has prompted the James Packer-backed group to say it won’t work with junkets again unless state gambling authorities agree to licence them.

AUSTRAC Undertakes Extensive Crown Investigation

It was also revealed in October that AUSTRAC was investigating Crown for potential breaches of Australia’s anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws.

In its latest risk assessment, AUSTRAC did not identify any links between junket tour operations and terrorism financing but said there was a risk of being targeted.

“Some junket tour operations have been exploited, and in some instances infiltrated, by serious and transnational criminal entities, including by individuals reported to be engaged in activities that could possibly be regarded as foreign interference,” the report stated.

“The use of offsetting arrangements used by some junket tour operators to facilitate junket-related fund flows is highly likely to be exploited by criminal entities and in being conducted can circumvent international funds transfer reporting requirements and facilitate the laundering of domestically generated proceeds of crime.”

AUSTRAC chief executive Nicole Rose said the agency expected Australia casinos and associated sectors to “use this assessment to protect their businesses and the Australian community from criminal threats.”

She said it showed junkets were “highly vulnerable” and casinos needed to do more to address the risks.

“Money laundering and financial crime enable serious criminal activity such as drug trafficking and human trafficking, which causes harm to our communities,” she said.

“I urge casinos to take prompt action by assessing their levels of risk posed by junket operations, strengthening their controls and reporting suspicious activity to AUSTRAC.”

Earlier this year, it was revealed a Crown vice-president authorised a junior casino staff member to wire $500,000 to a Melbourne drug trafficker, while Crown withheld details of the transaction from authorities for a year.

William Brown

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